Alumna spotlight: Miki Obata (PhD 2010)
PhD in Linguistics (University of Michigan)
Department of Science
Tokyo University of Science
Our alumna, Miki Obata, completed her PhD in Linguistics in 2010. Her dissertation entitled Root, Successive-Cyclic and Feature-Splitting Internal Merge: Implications for Feature-Inheritance and Transfer was co-chaired by Samuel D. Epstein and Noam Chomsky. Soon after graduation, Miki joined Mie University (Japan) as an Assistant Professor in Linguistics. Currently, she is an Associate Professor at Tokyo University of Science.
Miki has always been impressive in both her research and teaching. Even as a graduate student, she was able to present her research at many prestigious linguistics conferences in the USA, including NELS (2008), WCCFL (2008), PLC (2009) and LSA (2010). After graduation in 2010, she has continued to collaborate with Michigan linguistics faculty, in particular with Professor Samuel D. Epstein and Professor Marlyse Baptista on many research endeavors. Her most recent contribution (with Epstein, S.D., Kithahara, H. & T.D. Seely) to the field is a chapter entitled Economy of Derivation and Representation in The Cambridge Handbook of Generative Syntax.
Interest in Linguistics
Miki’s interest in linguistics began in high school when she studied English as a foreign language. “When I learned English in junior high school, I thought that English (i.e. language) is just like mathematics. If we put numbers into formula, we can get certain outputs/numbers. If we put words into sentence patterns, we can get certain meanings. This finding made me feel that languages are actually simple, just like mathematical formula. This is why I came to have interests in linguistic formula, i.e. syntax” Miki recalls. It is this interest, along with her dedication and commitment that is responsible for Miki’s career in linguistics.
Experience at Michigan
Sharing her experience as a graduate student at Michigan, Miki recalls “I had a meaningful time at Michigan.” One thing that she admires most about the Department of Linguistics at Michigan is the opportunity to work with many faculty members whose research interests are diverse: “The faculty members other than advisors are also very supportive. This is why I had chances to work on psycholinguistics (with Prof. Rick Lewis and Prof. Julie Boland) and also on creole studies (with Prof. Marlyse Baptista).” She also thinks that the lesser number of graduate students mentored by a single faculty member provides each grad student with an opportunity to “receive much attention” from his/her advisor. “I think this is one of the good points about Michigan,” Miki says. She also gratefully recalls the supervision and guidance that she received from her advisor, Professor Samuel D. Epstein: “I learned from Sam a lot of important things as a teacher and as a researcher by working with him.”
Secrets of Success
Miki had these final words to share with new graduate students: “It is true that there is much pressure in graduate life. So, I think it is important to find your way of relaxing. Also, I think you should meet with your advisors many more times to talk about what you are thinking. These meetings are very helpful to find your research topics and to make your research go well.